Reasons to buy a House.

We live on a strange line.

We didn’t know it when we bought our house. We bought the place because it just felt right, as soon as we arrived and we weren’t really looking, but we bought it anyway. Ten years later we are still here and all you have to do is look up on a day like today to know why we really choose it.

Tens of thousands of birds have passed over our garden today. Their wings are rustling above our heads. Flock after flock, flinking and beating. The first time you see them you just grin with astonishment; the second time you try to really listen and the third time you decide that the dry sound is like a rain shower through summer trees, almost gone before it reaches the ground.

They are pigeons coming out of Central Europe and flying west across France and into Spain and Portugal. Thousands  and thousands of birds crossing right over this odd intersection of Germany, France and Switzerland and over my back garden on a still sunny Sunday afternoon.

It appears we unwittingly bought a house on a major migration route for birds.

Spring and autumn birds flow over us. Down the lane serious birders set up telescopes and send in records of raptors and rarities to international migration sites.  My husband scans the skies from the comfort of the porch and convenient cups of tea. I look up when I hear the birds: air pushing, confident beats of stocky powerful wings and he indicates that the whole sky from edge to edge is black with the improbable smoke of the migrating pigeons.

So that’s why it has always felt like the right place!

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Picking Raspberries in the rain.

The autumn raspberries are always small.

My fingers fumble for them amongst the yellowing leaves.

There has been just enough sun to ripen a few hard green knots into fragrantly

soft fruit, bowed down now in easy reach of the gleaming slugs.

And now the rain.

A benediction of mist in a quiet grey sky

Makes slippery the sticky handle of the little basket.

My fingers close lightly and tug to loosen the wet fruit from the white stipe

But the raspberry crumbles, the droops bleed juice and rain onto my hand.

I should have picked them long ago.

 

 

Waiting for the plum to drop.

Apparently there is now a whole new, doing nothing, movement.

Having been told to make the most of every second to maximise our potentiality, having been told to reach for the stars, push the envelope, count every step , declutter our souls, curate our on line lives to reshape the paradigm and monetise our influencer profiles, it seems we should now do nothing at all and actually relax.

What a novel idea! What a surprise to find out that spending your time bombarded by social media, bad news stories and trivia doesn’t make you as happy as staring at the sky or watching the fruit ripen!

I admit to fretting about being unable to reach all the plums on the tree. Fretted about them going to waste, fretted about the  falling fruit annoying my neighbours. Then it rained, the wind blew and the plums fell onto the grass of their own volition. They were perfectly ripe and deliciously mealy . I picked them up, put them in a cup and on Sunday I will turn them into a crumble .

All I needed to do was relax and wait, as all good things come to she who waits, even if they have to drop directly onto my head!

Pavlov’s plants.

I like listening to the radio in French because I cant really understand it. I like reading in Spanish for the same reason. I like living surrounded by marvellous unfathomable bugs and silent fungi because I can just look and admire and cannot communicate with them.

Scientists have recently found that a plant which turns each day to a regularly timed source of bright light, which is also accompanied by the gentle blowing of a fan, will also turn to the blowing of the fan when there is no reward of light. Pavlov first proved that a dog rewarded with food when a bell rang would, salivate for food as soon as the bell rang, whether there was food or not, thus proving dogs could learn. This new research shows that plants can do the same thing.

Pavlov’s name has gone down in history for his work with dogs. The researcher who found this extraordinary evidence is Monica Gagliano . I think we will have to work on a catchy link for her second name, any idea?   https://www.monicagagliano.com.

The intelligence of plants is just beginning to be appreciated and is an amazing field.

It is just possible that in fact  I speak plant and the reason that all the other languages dont make sense is that I am tuned into a very different wave length. What do you think?

 

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Sky lace.

The swallows and martins are almost gone.

Over the garden they have poured in their hundreds, companionably calling as they weave their way to far away Africa.

Ted Hughes  wrote that they were stitching the sky and so I have always thought of them, but there were such thick clouds of them last week that I thought maybe they were lace making against the clouds, pulling delicate nets of fine worked lace  behind them.

Our house in on a migration route from Europe to Africa and every year the birds pour over us. Swallows and martins, chasing hobbies, red kites, honey busards, even the odd osprey and flock of blue, blue bee eaters stream over, sometimes high and sometimes low enough to feed from the insects rising from our garden.

The image of the fine lace woven by  the flight  patterns of wings for an instant and then rewoven, reassembled and pulled delicately across the whole world amuses me, something so much lighter and freer than a net : starting in the barns and eves of Europe and then being pulled by the interlacing wings all the way to Africa, a world unified  and beautified by birds!

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Slow Gardening.

After a week away from the shed, the bind weed came in through the window and started using the shafts of the hoes and spades to climb up.

Today is the last day of August, the last of the summer months. There should still be plenty of good weather to enjoy here, but part of me is pleased to slow down as the frantic pace of a hot, wet summer of growing eases off.

There is still plenty to do in the vegetable plot. The cucumbers and courgettes are rioting. The pumpkins have been slow to set fruit, but four whoppers are now growing in an absolute jungle of leaves and runners. Unlifted potatoes are starting to sprout and must be dug up and curly kale seedlings need thinning for winter growth. The patient parsnips have been growing all summer and a few sweet potato plants have crawled between everything, their tubers waiting for discovery.

But they can wait.

Autumn will be here soon enough.

I think I’ll let the bind weed wind round the spades a little longer.

 

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Glad to be Alive!

Today I am watching swallows. They are so low over my head I could touch them. They slice and swoop and chatter and are impossible to photograph. Amongst them are stocky house martins weaving the late summer sky with a sound like laughter.

I should be at work, but I am still weak from a freak mushroom poisoning incident at a local restaurant. This wasn’t your ordinary food  poisoning experience: it involved crawling to the neighbours, an ambulance each and emergency hospitalisation. Everyone who ate the wild forest mushrooms had the same experience. We both feel like we have been hit with a brick and lucky to be alive.  We both know enough about fungi to know about the one that makes you sick, then you recover, then you suffer irreversible organ failure and die ( destroying angel), but as I am watching swallows, it looks like we didn’t eat that one!

Swallows are usually so far up you can hardly see them, but today they are feeding on the insects rising from my little patch of grassy, shrubby, flowery rich paradise. Things we take for granted sometimes come very close to remind us that they are there: sometimes it is summer birds, sometimes it is a brick called life!

 

Away.

It is still summer and glittering.  Jewels hunt amongst the rose petals and the perfume of heat is strong.

But the night is cooler and the dawn later. The bats are coming into roost over the apple trees when I have to leave for work, their tantalising trails of clicks and whirls are caught by the bat box and then forgotten in the blur of noise and traffic and faces and faces and faces that fill the working day.

And take me away.

 

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Living in the Modern world.

This swallow was nesting above the cutlery shelf in a busy English beer garden. Drinkers clattered by collecting knives and forks, ketchup and vinegar and bar staff plonked down ploughmans’ lunches, Sunday roasts and Branston pickle sandwiches on their way to tables ringed by hungry drinkers.  The swallow ignored them all  and safe between the electrical wires and heating ducts brought butterflies and bugs back to its brood of hatchlings .

I have put up artificial, purpose made nests for swallows and house martins all round my house, just above my garden which is heaving with insect banquets and the birds have spurned them all. I have laughed at the improbability of my neighbour ever populating his huge new house martin monster hotel as he insists on constantly shaving the grass beneath with noisiest  lawn mower known to creation. However, it seems I have been totally wrong about what these birds want, as this picture proves. To attract swallows to nest in harmony give them chatter, clatter, the smell of cooking and the fumes of plenty of good bitter beer!

Low thunder.

Summer rain, washing away the dust: cleaning and cooling the clouds and leaving grey sheets of warm perfumed air in its wake.

Butterflies shelter in the vine dry against the house wall.

The lavender is curved down by the wet weight of its own heavy loveliness .

Pale hollyhocks cup bees circling the stiff stigmas untroubled by the slanting rain.

The cat leaves off hunting sparrows sheltering on the bird table, in order to cringe from the low thunder.

Now it is glittering sunshine, now black towering clouds, now the suffocating perfume of budliea breathing through the saturated air.

Will there ever be a day like this again?

Africa shows the way.

The world seems swamped with depressing news these days and then you see this. We have to have hope for our  beautiful planet, what ever the news.

Ethiopia has closed government offices to ensure everybody plants trees. Let’s follow Africa and hope each seedling grows! 🌱🌳🌳🌱

https://pmo.gov.et/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/29/ethiopia-plants-250m-trees-in-a-day-to-help-tackle-climate-crisis?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

 

Hogs need holes

I was telling my neighbour about the hedgehogs is the garden and she told me how amazed she was to see them in her garden too. There is no surprize in this as a hedgehog roams about two kilometres a day. The problem is that so many gardens are so securely fenced off from each other that hedgehog cannot move from one to another. Small gaps between fences panels or holes under lines of wire fences are all that is needed for a prickly hog to squeeze safely through and to find enough to eat each night.

Humans are obsessed with tidiness. We like straight lines and we fill the gaps in with unyielding concrete in the name of tidiness. We strim down the rough patches and we mow the grass within an  inch of its life. Tidy gardens have very little wildlife and are such a waste of wonderful spaces!

Putting hedgehog path ways through new and old fences is a wonderful way of cooperating with your community, getting to know the neighbours and helping one of the most irresistible mammals I know.

This link to the wildlife trusts of the UK shows you how to do it.

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-create-hedgehog-hole

A Prickly customer.

We spotted a large hedgehog out in the afternoon sun in our garden yesterday. She seemed in good health and unafraid. Something seemed to be sticking out of her mouth, but it was very hard to get a good look when she hid by a wall.

My husband thought it was a little bird foot, but this seemed ridiculous. We left her in peace and she trundled off into the bushes. On the lawn was a half eaten young sparrow, which one of our cats had caught from the bird table and then eaten the breast in typical faddy cat fashion. The bird was also missing its feet.

A check of the guidebook confirms that cute hedgehogs will eat carrion and like nestlings that fall out of the nest.

We make bread; the crusts go every day to the sparrow; the sparrows make a lot of babies; the cats catch some young sparrows; the hedgehog eats the left overs and makes more hedgehogs.  Nature is never wasteful and never soppy!

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New w/balls please!

The future for the environment can look bleak, but every day there are signs that people are waking up and maybe things can get better. Sport does little for me personally, but this article on the living green walls at the home of tennis, made me really smile. Every dull concrete wall in every polluted, depressing city in the world will look like this one day .  Bring on a green living future!!

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/tennis-players-find-tranquility-in-wimbledons-living-walls?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

How to moth trap.

This post is for those who would like to trap moths and discover what is flying at night when they are safe in bed. If moths give you the heebie-jeebies then skip this post!

I am sure there are other ways of doing it, with other equipment, but I am just sharing my own experience for those who are curious.

I have been trapping for about 12 years on a regular basis.  I had been out with other naturalists many years ago in Wales, but it wasn’t until my husband bought me a trap for a present that I started in earnest.

 

First thing you need is a moth trap.   

https://www.watdon.co.uk/   Watkins and Doncaster provided Charles Darwin with his equipment.  They send across the world and they know what they are doing.  I recommend their basic plastic bucket trap to start with and two bulbs (in case you smash one!).

All a trap is, is a UV light bulb which attracts the moths, above a plastic funnel.  The moths then fall down into the bucket below, where they perch on cardboard egg boxes in safety for the night.

The next morning you switch off the light, open the trap gently and carefully remove each egg box one by one. You then photograph the moths (in case they fly off!) and then try to identify them using a good guide book.

I use British Moths by Chris Manley published by Bloomsbury.  I have not found a similar single volume guide for France.  I am certain there are excellent guides for where you live.  There are also some excellent free on line identification sites.  I use https://ukmoths.org.uk/systematic-list/ and also http://montgomeryshiremoths.org.uk/ which is very good for showing what is around at the right time of year.

You make a note of the weather and date and keep a list of what you find in English and or Latin.  I tick off all the species that I have confidently identified in my guide book, so that I can find them again more easily.  I later send my list and photos to my local naturalist organisation, https://faune-alsace.org  so that my records can be compared with others, but you can skip this bit!

That is the bare bones and I am aware that it sounds unutterably dull and nerdy.  The reason for doing it is because you get to see the most wonderful creatures with your own eyes, while drinking a cup of tea on the back step of your own home and that takes some beating as a wildlife experience.  I have been lucky enough to live in Zambia and to spend months on safari, I have lived in Costa Rica for four years and in Brazil for two and spent as much time as possible in the forests, rivers and oceans, seeing wildlife that most people only see on David Attenborough tv programmes and yet I have never enjoyed wildlife in such comfort, or been so amazed on a daily basis as I have been when moth trapping in my own back garden!

 

Tips.

  1.  It takes a long time to learn the common moths that you will encounter on your patch.  It has taken me 10 years to be confident with the common moths and even then I make mistakes.  There are a lots of moths and many of them look the same!!!

2. Start by identifying the ones with clear colours or markings.  Leave the dull ones until much later.  There is no shame in being confused.  If the guide book says the moth that you have spent hours identifying is very rare in your area, then you probably have made a mistake.

3. Keep your moths cool.  If it is warm and the trap has been left in the sun before you open it, then they will all fly away before you identify them.  Move your trap into the coolest shade you can and let them settle before taking out the boxes.  If you do this, you do not need to put them in collecting jars to look at.  They will sit happily on the egg box while you admire them.

4. Take a photo on your phone or camera, so you can look back at them and identify them when you have time.  This final phase often requires a glass of chilled wine and a sofa!

5. Let the moths fly off when they want to, or shake onto a bush.  My cats used to try to eat them, but now treat them with feline disdain.

 

Enjoy!!

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1. UV light and plastic funnel.

2. Box containing old egg boxes and electrical connection.

3. Lead to mains or to a big battery if you want to set up the trap in a remote place.

4. Identification guide.

 

Gifts of the night.

It has been painfully hot here. My garden has had to fend for itself, as going out in the sunshine has been impossible.  Luckily we are on holiday and can sleep the heat of the day away and get up before dawn, open up the house and let in a breath of cool air.

My moth trap has been on almost every night and a wonderful range of visitors has appeared to be sorted over in the pearly morning light before the sun races up over the hedge.

I have been trapping for more than 10 years now and I never cease to be amazed by the diversity and beauty of the moths that I find and how they vary with the seasons.   I have identified more than 160 species of moths just in my back garden over the years and 67 species this year so far. Every time I open the trap there is a possibility  that I will find a moth that is a  totally new record for me and that is a real thrill. I send all my records into my local wildlife society on line and it surprising how under recorded French papillon du nuit (butterflies of the night) are.

The photo at the top is a lovely large emerald that fluttered out of the  trap onto the lawn.

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And this beast is a privet hawk moth.

As they say in the film credits “no animal was hurt in the making of this blog” and all these gifts of the night fly away after identification.

Who knows who will arrive tonight?

Smelling of Roses.

How inadequate language is!

Scent, smell, perfume ignites memory like nothing else, they are far more powerful than sounds or even vision; we might think in pictures, but we feel and remember in smells.  And when we try to evoke this experience in language , how we fail!

How to describe the sickly smell of sweet chestnut in flower; the wedding yearning of mock orange blossom; the catch in the throat of lilac after rain and the elusive, unexpected sherbet of iris flowers without the use of simile and history?

Privet flowers are the smell of long summer afternoon in quiet suburbs, elderflowers are the back seat of Dad’s car as we drove down long hedge rows to collect saucers of white flowers that would be turned into explosive summer wine. This petunia has a bubblegum smell that reminds me of the Brazilian friend who gave me a pot plant to thank me for cooking dinner. The little plant perfumed the garden table for the whole summer many years ago.

I can share a picture of a scented petunia with you, but not the perfume. Your mind will have to imagine  what my words stumble to evoke, or maybe you can just step outside to smell the real roses and they will create their own story and memory of time and place for you.

Looks what happens when you don’t mow!

 

Short grass is an obsession with so many people. Close mown grass of uniform dullness is the holy grail for some; every “weed” poisoned and not an insect in sight makes some people happy. I, on the other hand, try my best to show how wonderful a long lawn can be and how much wildlife it can support. The dull lawners are rarely impressed until you mention the magic word : Orchid!

At work, a beautiful pyramid orchid managed to appear in the brief window between ritual grass cuttings. I happened to spot it and the mower had to spare a tiny patch of grass so the children could come out and photograph it on their phones. You can see them reflected in the glass window capturing something to share on line for a moment. It wasn’t like the tropical orchids on sale in the supermarket, it was small and vulnerable and they were almost impressed .

The butterfly orchid was in the meadow and the parasitic broomrape was on the edge of the maize field, so I thought I would share them with you like the kids do on social media, in the hope that a love for the wild things that grow when you dont mow, will stir in us all!

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Alice Oswald

It was with real delight I read that Alice Oswald has been made the professor of poetry at Oxford University. I thought I was the only person to have fallen in love with her bell clear, thumb nail sharp slice into the green heart; but it turns out I was wonderfully wrong and she is recognised at the highest levels.

This you tube clip shows her reading from “Falling Awake” . Skip the first minute of pomposity and listen to her from 1.55. The heart needs Alice Oswald.

 

 

Marvel of the Day.

I love the names of moths: heart and dart;   setaceous hebrew character; cloth of gold; delicate; uncertain; scalloped beauty; ruby tiger and so many more.

This year has been cooler and wetter than previous years, and though I infinitely prefer it, the moths have been late appearing and many nights have been too rainy to capture anything. However, last night was a wonderful night of mothing and I found twenty different species waiting amongst the egg boxes under the UV light.

My favourite name is a French one, used by English speakers the merveille du jour – the marvel of the day, coined by a French observer for the marvellous and unexpected new moth found that night. My merveille  du jour today was a beautiful lace border, which was luminously white and delicate and perfectly named.

I was particularly surprised to see it, as it is moth of limestone meadow and although we live on limestone, most of the moths I see are woodland species. Then I remembered that I have allowed my front drive to grow over and it is now covered in wild marjoram and scree flowers, and maybe after enough years of careful neglect, I have made just the right home for this beautiful and elusive moth in my own garden – a real  merveille  du jour!

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